“They were trying to police how we fight for liberation” states Ayanna Poole, a University of Missouri student and founding member of the school’s Concerned Student 1950 activism group, recounting one particular protest that was designed to get a face-to-face meeting with university president Tim Wolfe. Despite being told to move their protest to the area outside, only to have the sprinklers turned on around them, as if deterring a stray dog sniffing around one’s garden, Poole and her companions would not be discouraged as a life was literally at stake.
Spike Lee’s 2 Fists Up captures the sense of urgency that many students of colour felt when one of their own, Jonathan Butler, held a hunger strike in 2015 to bring attention to the rampant racism occurring across the Missouri campus. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and their school’s close proximity to the events in Ferguson, a group of students formed the Concerned Student 1950 movement to combat the prejudice that both students and faculty were experiencing on a daily basis. Knowing that the only way to evoke change was to demand that Wolfe step down, the students found themselves in an uphill battle with an administration that cared more about profit and image than basic human rights.
One of the fascinating aspects of Spike Lee’s film is the emphasis it places on the black women who are ushering in a new generation of political activism. While the likes of Butler and other males in Concerned Student 1950 are interviewed in the film, it is the women who offer some of the most inspiring insight. Especially when commenting on how the Missouri football team, in an act of solidarity, refused to participate in practice until the school took the group’s demands seriously.
Though the football team brought national media and political attention to the protest, 2 Fists Up cuts through the media propaganda and gives the spotlight to the true heroes of the movement; the individuals who helped to organize their fellow students, and did not waiver from the cause despite the roadblocks placed in their path at every turn. While events like the recent Woman’s March in Washington are being praised as the start of new era of female led activism, Lee’s 2 Fists Up reminds us that these types of grassroots movements, like the one in Missouri, have actually been building for several years. It is time we all start to take notice.